ALERT's 50th ANNIVERSARY


Much of the text in this article is credited to Captain Tom Jenkins who provided the summary. Tom was one of the Alert 50th Committee Members. Additional material has been provided by Jerry Proc along with content from other sources.

On September 1st 1958, CFS Alert officially began its operational role as a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) unit of the Canadian Forces.  In the 50 years that have followed, the site has seen many changes and many  faces as the “Frozen Chosen” have stood guard on the top of the world.

Alert's 50th anniversary celebrations consisted of several events. First, was the temporary operation of Alert's former amateur radio station VE8RCS operating under the call sign VE8RCS/VY0. Next  was a flight back to Alert for some selected veterans. A ceremony was held in Alert itself. The last of the celebrations was held at CFS Leitrim on the weekend of September 12 and 13, 2008.

AMATEUR RADIO VE8RCS/VY0

As part of the celebrations, an amateur radio operation was set up in Alert using call sign VE8RCS/VY0. The original call sign could not be used because Alert became part of the Territory of Nunavut in 1999. Nunavut uses the VY0 call sign prefix while NWT uses VE8. This meant that VE8RCS had to operate as portable VY0. The flight to Alert had been planned for August 26 with a return date of  Sept 10.

On August 26, three amateur  radio operators departed CFB Trenton  to temporarily reactivate VE8RCS for the 50th anniversary celebrations. They were Robert – VE3GLO,  Les – VE3KFS, Scott – VA3XA and a fourth member Ken – VE3SRS,  joined the team on September 4. After arriving in Trenton at 3.30am, the team of three had checked in with the counter at  4am as directed. The Hercules aircraft was boarded around 0615 and it became airborne around 0645. Three hours into the trip, one of the engines failed. Someone made the decision to return to Trenton!  Normally a Herc would continue on to destination with an engine failure at this point in the flight.

August 27 did not go smoothly either. After arriving at the designated time of 4 am, the three operators were  informed that there would be a delay of at least 3 hours. To lessen the delay, the baggage was switched to another aircraft but that one was also beset by problems.  The first aircraft was then repaired; everything had to be transferred back.  By 1930 the Herc was airborne and it arrived in Thule later in the afternoon. Everyone was greeted with beautiful sunshine with the temperature hovering at 14C.

After landing at Alert and setting up the radios and antennas, the first sound that came from the loudspeaker was static. At this time of the year, propagation from Alert is very poor. August 30 saw the first full day of operating on the ham bands.  The QRN (noise) was terrible. During the days of operation, it was boom or bust in terms of band conditions. In spite of the difficulties,  the team of four operators racked up this impressive number of contacts when the station shut down on September 8 at 16:00.

The highlight of this operation was talking to all the former "Frozen Chosen" and those amateurs who offered phone patches and passed traffic for the past 50 years of Alert's history. This capsule account was summarized from the web page of Scott Crouse VA3XA.

Total Contacts = 5659 30 meter CW = 1541
Unique Contacts = 5316  (lots of duplicates) 30 meter RTTY = 3
Total Countries = 86 20 meter CW = 1107
40 meter CW = 699 20 meter RTTY = 308
40 meter Voice = 10 20 meter Voice = 1637
40 meter RTTY = 11  

 
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Ken Halcrow, VE3SRS, stands next to one of two stations set up in the Alert ham shack To his right is a transportable case that contains a complete HF/VHF station with HF/VHF packet facilities and a 120VAC to 12VDC power unit atop the gear. Out of sight, was the main HF transceiver complete with linear amplifier. (Photo by Earle Smith) 
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(L-R) Scott Crouse VA3XA, Les Lindstrom VE3KFS, BGen James Ferron, Bob Schofield VE3GLO and Ken Halcrow VE3SRS. (Photo from Scott Crouse's web page)
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This is the QSL card used during this "DXpedition" . (Image courtesy Scott Crouse VA3XA).
CHOOSING THE VETERAN'S FOR THE FLIGHT TO ALERT

In order to be eligible for a seat on the flight to Alert, a person must have served in Alert, been part of a construction crew or part of an aircrew that flew into Alert. All interested personnel were instructed to sign up for the flight on the "Celebrations" website. A total of 184 people registered for the chance to go back to Alert. With such a large number of applicants and so few seats available, it was obvious that some criteria was required to determine the lucky few that would be afforded the opportunity to return to the North. The final decision on how to proceed with the selection process was made by Major General (MGen) A.G. Hines, the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Deputy Minister (Information Management).

As the event will be celebrating the history of SIGINT in Alert, MGen Hines specified that the selection process should be weighted more heavily towards the people who served in Alert during the early years of its operation. In order to choose the lucky 20, the decision was made to select six names from those who served in Alert in the 1950’s, five names from those who were there in the 1960’s, four people who served during the 1970’s, three members who did their time in the 1980’s, and two people who served after 1990.

Presiding over the selection process that took place at Canadian Forces Information Operations Group Headquarters on Tuesday, 10 June 2008 were Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Neil O’Hare, Captain Brian Kebic, Captain Tom Jenkins, and Major (Padre) George Scharf.

A number was placed beside the names of all those who were in Alert during the 1950’s and six numbers were drawn out of a hat by the Padre. Those six people became the primary candidates to represent their decade on the flight. Five more names were drawn as back-ups in case one or more of the primaries becomes unable to attend. That same process was followed to randomly select the representatives for the remaining decades.

The winners were contacted to ensure that they were still willing and able to attend the celebrations at CFS Alert in early September. The schedule would be grueling, with little time being spent on the ground in Alert. The fortunate few, whose names came out of the hat, are shown in the left column of the table.

1950’s Tour Date(s)
Charles Nickerson 58-59, 61-62
Mike Juhas 59-60, 69-70, 77, 83
Frank Melvin 58, 65, 70-71
Earle Smith 57-58
Leonard Benko 58, 61, 83
Ed Avery 59-60, 64, 25 Boxtops

1960’s Tour Date(s)
Phil Colwill
Bill Dyke 66, 76
Dave Berry 68, 72, 76
Jim Troyanek 60-61, 64, 67, 71-72, 76, 81, 86, 89
William Rogers 61, 64, 66

1970’s Tour Date(s)
Greg Barteluk 79, 84, 88, 93
Joseph Goguen 79, 82, 86, 90-91, 94

1980’s Tour Date(s)
Bruno Chagnon 84, 91
Donald More 84, 87, 91-92
Donald McGrath 80, 83-84, 88, 91

1990’s and Beyond
LCol J.P.E  Langevin 92   J2 SIGINT
 

The following Alert veterans also made the trip and were substitutes from the original draw of names. 

Morris Yarrow Apr - Oct 64
Ken McNames 59, 63, 64, 66
Arnold Driver Sep  58 - Sep 59 (12 months)
MWO E.E. Coles  3 May 73 - 3 Nov 73
17 Apr 74 - 17 Oct 74
01 Feb 78 - 03 Aug 78
25 Aug 872 - 27 Jan 83
26 Mar 86 - 24 Jul 86
12 Dec 90 - 14 Mar 91
Sgt. A.R. Cobden  Feb 83 - 18 Aug 83
04 Mar 87 - 03 Sep 87
Gord Grant 59, 67
Darryl Catton 56, 57
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

These  people were also on the flight :

BGen Ferron                         DGIMO
Ms Antanonia Moffat             DG Int (CSE)
Ms Coleen D'Iorio                 CSE DGA
Maj Marshall                          A/CO
CWO J.J.G.R. Couturier        AF CWO
CWO Dalcourt                      ADM (Mat) CWO
CPO1 C.A.J. Laurendeau      ADM(IM)Chief
Ms Louise Marin                    IM GP PA
MWO G.R. Mandeville          Postie (military postal worker)
Ken Halcrow                         Amateur radio operator 
Sgt McCaulay                        Combat Camera
Cpl Abbey                             Combat Camera

The possibility existed that additional seats would become available on the flight, depending on the number of dignitaries that would be making the trip. If more seats opened up,  those already selected as alternates would  move onto the primary list, starting with the 1950’s era vets. By flight day, there were 3 deletions and 6 additions.
 
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The "lucky ones" are on their way to Alert. (Photo by  Cpl. Abbey, DND Combat Camera) 
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Various passengers aboard the Herc have different ways to pass the time during the 10 hour flight to Alert. (Photo by Dave Berry)

DEPARTURE and CELEBRATIONS AT ALERT

The festivities began on September 2, 2008 when the lucky 23 Alert Vets gathered at CFS Leitrim All Ranks Mess for a meet and greet. They got to renew some old acquaintances, meet some new people, and get briefed on the latest updates to timings regarding the flight north the next day. Personnel from Supply were also there to issue them with the Arctic kit they needed in order to board the plane.

At 0545 on September 3, the Alert Vets and the dignitaries (led by Brigadier General James Ferron, Director General Information Management Operations) met at Hangar 11 at the Ottawa airport. The mood was full of anticipation as they awaited the arrival of their Herc that was flying in from Trenton, then departing for Alert.

By 0800 the wheels were up and they were on their way. They stopped on schedule in Iqaluit for fuel and took off again. Shortly after they were airborne, a problem was noted with one of the de-icing valves on the aircraft. This forced them to turn around and return to Iqaluit to address the problem. The part was repaired, and off they went again. By now, however, the crew was running out of allowed flying hours and there was no chance of making it to Alert. Instead, they made their way to Resolute Bay to spend the night. This motley crew of Arctic travelers made the best of their detour and managed to enjoy their evening in Resolute.

On September 4 they reboarded the aircraft and once more headed for Alert. This time they managed to make it to their destination and received a warm welcome from the current cadre of the Frozen Chosen. While their time on site was drastically reduced due to their delays in arriving, Alert personnel worked hard to cram as much as possible into the little time they had on the ground. The official ceremonies included the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate 50 years of SIGINT operations and a mess dinner to celebrate the occasion.

At noon on September 5 they said goodbye to their new found friends in Alert once more boarded the Herc, this time heading south. Their trip back home went off as scheduled, arriving back in Ottawa around 2145 that night.
Despite the unavoidable brevity of their visit, all were very happy with having the opportunity to visit CFS Alert one more time.

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Unveiling the 50th anniversary plaque in Churchill Hall . (Photo by  Cpl. Abbey, DND Combat Camera)   The English side of the bilingual plaque reads as below:

 
82° 30' N Latitude 62° 19'W Longitude.
The most northern permanently inhabited 
settlement on earth. 

1 September 1958

This plaque commemorates 50 years of 
Canadian Forces Signals Intelligence activities 
conducted at CFS Alert in support of Canada's 
Defence and Foreign policy. The execution of 
the vital mission has been made possible by the 
dedicated efforts of men and women from all 
elements and branches of the CF.

Excelling in a harsh and unforgiving environment,
and at great personal sacrifice, the personnel of 
CFS Alert, the "Frozen Chosen" proudly stand 
guard over the "True North Strong and Free".


 
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Mess Dinner: Jim Troyanek, who was there, comments. "The meal was great, the cooks and kitchen staff did a superb job of looking after us. After a few words by BGen Ferron (excellent Sir) we again gathered in the Arctic Club for the "official" photograph of the Vets and invited dignitaries with the "cake". After this, it was socializing with a few "wets" - for some it was a long night". (Photo by  Cpl. Abbey, DND Combat Camera) 
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Cutting the cake. (Photo by  Cpl. Abbey, DND Combat Camera) 
CFS LEITRIM FESTIVITIES

The Meet and Greet was scheduled to begin at 1500 on Friday 12 September 2008, but people began filing in during the noon hour. They were greeted at the door by currently serving personnel of the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group (CFIOG is the current version of the old Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio System or CFSRS) and by Supp Rad Old Timers.

The Commander of CFIOG, Colonel (Col) Greg Loos, spoke briefly to welcome everyone to the event. He pointed out that it was important to him not only because of his current position, but also because his father, Mr. George Loos, did two tours of Alert.

Those who had pre-registered received their package containing a nametag listing their Alert tour date(s), a copy of the book of Alert photographs, an Alert calendar, an Alert pin, and an Alert coin. By the end of the evening 590 people had paid their $20 and wandered through the doors of the mess. People spent the evening reminiscing with old friends, partaking in the tours of the Canadian Forces SIGINT Operations Center (CFSOC), checking out the Mobile Electronic Warfare Team’s (MEWT) Bison vehicle, visiting with the amateur (HAM) radio operators broadcasting on site, enjoying some of the Alert displays and slide shows, and keeping the bars hopping. Folks were still going strong at closing time, so it appears that a good time was had by all.

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The Bison [1] MEWT vehicle on display at Leitrim was similar to this one. It had a 40 foot telescoping communications mast and a supplemental motor-generator which sat atop the vehicle.  On hand were two Comm Research operators/drivers to answer questions from visitors. Canada has 25 Bisons (in 2008) modified for an ECM role. (Photo courtesy Enemyforces.com)
The following items were part of the pre-registration package.
alert_calendar.jpg
Calendar for 2009. 
alert_photo_album.jpg
Alert photo album. It tells the story of the station through pictures.

 
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Alert coin. 45 mm in diameter.  Face side (left). Obverse side (right) 

 
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Alert pin. 36 mm H x 25 mm W Nametag badge
At 1300, on Saturday 13 September, things got underway again. There were more tours of the CFSOC, more viewings of the MEWT, and lots more visiting with old friends. The official ceremonies began as scheduled at 1700. One unexpected item on the agenda was the appearance of a representative from the Ottawa mayor’s office, Mr. Ian Smith. He read a proclamation from the mayor, declaring Saturday 13 September  as “CFS Alert Day” in the city of Ottawa.

Major General (MGen) Anthony Hines then spoke briefly about the efforts required of all the Frozen Chosen during the past 50 years. His comments also included thanking the families left behind to deal with life’s trials and tribulations without their loved ones. He then called upon the oldest member of the Alert Vets in attendance to assist him in unveiling the plaque. A spry 85 year-old Mr. Miller stepped forward and helped the general do the honours.

Next on the agenda was MGen Hines presenting framed copies of the Maple Leaf articles written by past Frozen Chosen members. Mr. Tom Stibernik, Mr. “Monty” Montgomery, Mr. Moe Beere and Mr. Earle Smith all received these mementos as thanks for their assistance in publicizing the celebrations.

MGen Hines then had the pleasure of presenting three Alert Vets with the Special Service Medal with the Alert bar for tours they had done prior to the honour coming into existence in 1992. Receiving their medals were Mr. Richard Paci who served in Alert in 1964, Mr. Ivan Barrette who did his tour in 1971, and Mr. Mike Juhas who completed four tours in 1959-60, 1969-70, 1977, and 1983.

The Commander of CFIOG, Colonel Greg Loos, then took the opportunity to add his congratulations to those who had received the presentations, as well as thanking those who organized the events.

After the ceremonies there was plenty of time remaining for more visiting and telling of tall tales till closing time.

alert_leitrim_miller.jpg
MGen Hines unveils a plaque to honour the "Frozen Chosen'. Assisting him was 85 year old Mr. Miller, the oldest Alert veteran in attendance. The inscriptions on this plaque and the one in Alert are identical. There is one minor difference however. The crest on the plaque unveiled in Alert was not painted while the one at Leitrim was.
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MGen Hines presented framed copies of past articles written by past Frozen Chosen members and published in Maple Leaf. Here, Earle Smith accepts his award.  Identical awards were also given to  Tom Stibernik,  “Monty” Montgomery and Moe Beere. All these gentlemen  also provided their assistance in publicizing the celebrations.
alert_leitrim_pres2.jpg
MGen Hines presenting Mike Juhas with a Special Service Medal with the Alert bar. Richard Paci and Ivan Barrette also received the same award. Note that all the awards are being presented by an Air Force officer rather than an Army officer. There is a reason for that. On April 1, 2008, the Canadian Air Force officially took over the responsibility of Alert from CFIOG.
All photos in this table by Joyce Berry
LEITRIM AMATEUR RADIO ACTIVITIES

Ken Halcrow, VE3SRS/VE8RCS,  provides some information on the Leitrim amateur radio activities. "The call sign used was VC3RCS , a Special Event call sign which was valid from 15 August to 15 September. A trailer, belonging to the Ottawa Valley Mobile Radio Club (OVMRC) was set up and was operational on both Friday and Saturday. Only two dozen contacts were made with most of them being Canadian and a few in the U.S. The bands used were 2 metres on the local repeaters, 40m and 20m. Of the dozens of folks that visited the trailer, at least 15 were licensed hams.  Most of our time was spent in the trailer telling stories about the good old days of amateur radio and having an opportunity to try their CW "fist" once again using the oscillator. Steve Cochran, VE3SBC, helped me set up and take down the trailer".

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Bob Schofield, VE3GLO is operating from the trailer at CFS Leitrim.  He was also part of the team of four operators who travelled to Alert to operate VE8RCS/VY0.
GREELY LEGION BREAKFAST

A breakfast was served at the Greely Legion (former site of HMCS GLOUCESTER, the Communicator Research trade’s school before it moved to Canadian Forces Base Kingston in 1972) from 0900 – 1100 on Sunday 14 September. The Ladies Auxiliary, assisted by members of the CFS Leitrim Army Cadet Corps fed a delicious meal to close to 200 people for the event.

Following breakfast, members of the SUPRAD Old Timers Association conducted a brief ceremony. The names of personnel from their organization who had passed away during the past year were read and a moment of silence was taken for them. Padre George Scharf, the padre for CFS Leitrim, also assisted with the ceremony.

Each year members of the SUPRAD Old Timers Association select one of their members to honour.  This year’s recipient was Commander Bill Hillaby who spent a large portion of his naval career within the CFSRS system, both as a non-commissioned member and a commissioned officer. His biography was read, and his photo was added to others who have been previously awarded this honour.

Col Loos was invited to say a few words to wrap up the weekend. His comments focused on the importance of the SIGINT mission both past and present, and on the brotherhood and close friendships that have been forged out of those who have so unselfishly served at CFS Alert through all these years. He stated that those close bonds were very apparent all weekend long.

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Jerry Proc (L) and David Smith (R) at the Greely Legion breakfast. (Photo by Janice Smith) 
CLOSING

Capt Tom Jenkins sums it up. "And so it ends. On behalf of everyone who assisted in organizing and conducting the event, please let me pass along my sincere thanks to all of you who attended, as well as to those who assisted by sending in your photos, videos, artifacts, etc. The vast majority of the comments we received were very positive, so we will consider the events a success".

________________________________________

A short add-on from the SUPRAD Old-timers Association.

The Alert Crest and Quilt Raffles were a great success with $1,500.00 being donated to the families of deployed service personnel.  The Alert Crest was won by Terry Whalley and the Quilt was won by Brian and Niki Mack. A most sincere thank-you to all who supported this worthy cause.

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This was the wood carved Alert crest won by Terry Whalley.(Photo via Butch Whitlaw)
OTHER

More photos are available at Jim Troyanek's web page and here too.
Scott Crouse, VA3XA, has documented the Dxpedition to Alert here.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Bison is an eight-wheeled armoured vehicle originally designed as an infantry section carrier. The Bisons are now being converted into support variants which include Ambulance, Electronic Warfare, Mobile Repair Team, Maintenance, Recovery, and NBC Reconnaissance. The new variants will come equipped with an upgrade in engine power, new torsion bars, fittings for add-on armour, air conditioning, and the VRS respirator system for NBC defence. Delivery of the upgraded vehicles will take place in stages from 2002-2008.

Variants:
32 Bison Ambulances
32 Bison Mobile Repair Team vehicles
32 Bison Recovery vehicles
25 Bison Electronic Warfare vehicles
4 Bison NBC Reconnaissance vehicles

Normal armament: 7.62mm C6 machine gun (C6)
As a Command Post: C9A1 machine gun
As an Ambulance: Nil
Other variants: (as of 2006-05-30)  76-mm grenade launcher (2 clusters of 4 launchers) except ambulance:

Specifications:
Crew: 2 (driver and commander)
Length: 6.5 m;  Width: 2.6 m;  Height: 2.6 m
Weight: 13 tonnes
Maximum speed: Land: 100 km/h, Water: 10 km/h
Range: 650 km
Engine: 275 hp Detroit Diesel 6V53T two-cycle turbo-charged diesel
Transmission: Allison 5 speed MT653
Maximum grade: 60%
Drive: full-time 4-wheel, selective 8-wheel
Entered service: 1990



Credits and References:

1) Captain Tom Jenkins, Alert 50th Committee Member.  Email: jenkins.tg(at)forces.gc.ca
2) Bison photo    http://www.enemyforces.com/apc/bison.htm
3) Scott Crouse -  web page.  http://users.xplornet.com/~scrouse/ve8rcs.html
4) Ken Halcrow VE3SRS/VE8RCS  <ken_h(at)rogers.com>
5) http://alert.leitrimmess.com/gallery.htm
6) Jim Troyanek's web page.  http://www.troywoodintarsia.com/alert/ltpage50ann.html
7) Dave Berry <davenberry(at)gmail.com>
8) Earle Smith - VE6NM <t16ru672(at)telusplanet.net>
 

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Nov 7/08